You can’t download a live touring act.
You write, compose, arrange, record — and Paul O’Neill does all of those — but a live rock show, with lasers and lights and hydraulic lifts and hair and sweat and decibels and the unexpected … O’Neill, a co-founder and composer/producer for Trans-Siberian Orchestra, knows those are things that translate best in shared space.
In retrospect, The Beat should have kept a running count of the number of times in a 45-minute interview O’Neill uttered some version of, “We want to blow their minds.”
“When we started this band, we wanted to do something different, to give an extra dimension to every song and to create a story,” he explained. “We wanted four guitars, two drummers, four keyboards and 24 lead singers. We wanted to draw from the rock world, the classical word, the theatrical world.”
Nonetheless, O’Neill stated very plainly that TSO starts and ends with the music and musicians.
“The way our band works, we always have the right singer for the right song,” he said.
O’Neill’s earliest musical efforts included a record made in the mid-1970s but shelved because, “I didn’t like the vocals.”
He worked as a promoter, writer and producer, and in the early ’90s, connected with art-metal band Savatage, including Jon Oliva and Al Pitrelli, with whom he would create TSO.
“We were lucky early on to have the support of (record industry executive) Ahmet Ertegun,” O’Neill said. “We pulled the plug on a Broadway project and our first album didn’t sell. A lot of people would just have dropped us.
Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24, a song written for Savatage, became the centerpiece for a Christmas-themed rock opera, and gave Trans-Siberian Orchestra a hit song around which could be constructed a live show that met O’Neill’s vision.
While TSO does not tour exclusively around the holidays — and, in fact, has released two non-holiday themed records and is at work on another — it is still largely the Christmas music that has placed TSO at or near the top of touring acts over the past decade.
So O’Neill and mates reward audiences with ever-bigger experiences.
“We’ve upped the ‘pyro’ times four,” he said. “Everything’s way bigger and way better.”
Try downloading that.